It’s been hot here in SoCal and if you haven’t heard the news, we’re in the middle of a drought. Since the garden is just about replanted (stay tuned), I figured I’d track down some free or cheap mulch to cover up the bare dirt areas in the filled-in pool that now contains my square foot garden. Santa Barbara operates a free mulch program which is actually pretty cool. The green waste from residents, businesses, tree trimmers and gardeners ends up in a pile at their transfer station and is free for the taking. I needed a lot, like a ton, so picking it up myself did not sound fun at all. If you are serviced by Santa Barbara Water, the city will actually deliver a truckload for free. All gung ho, I called them up to order up my free truckload of mulch, only to find out I’m serviced by Goleta Water. They would have delivered to my address for a small delivery fee, but I had a better Plan B up my sleeve. I knew a tree trimmer who once told me his company would gladly drop a load of freshly chipped mulch for free, or at least cheap, since they had to pay the dump to get rid of it otherwise. I made a call to a local tree trimmer, the Beaver Tree Company who told me I could get a truckload delivered for $25. Perfect! As a bonus, his chips would be free of the small bits of trash that inevitably end up in the municipal supply.
While not everyone lives in an area with a green waste program like ours, tree trimmers are everywhere so keep it in mind when you’re looking for lots of mulch on the cheap.
If you’re not sold on the benefits of mulch there’s more to it than just aesthetics. Mulch keeps weeds at bay provided you’ve laid a thick enough layer. Mulch around your plants and trees helps conserve water and means you can water less frequently. Over time, mulch breaks down adding to the tilth and nutrient profile of your soil. There are a few caveats. If you don’t know the source of your mulch, its possible you’re introducing pesticides into your garden. Some woods should be avoided if you’re going to be mixing mulch into your soil, rather than spreading it on top. Pine, in particular, can cause Nitrogen lock-out if there’s too much in the root zone and other trees like Walnut, contain allelopathic chemicals that actually kills plants.